Sustainable construction using PVC, a perfect match

06 Feb 2013

Recent estimates indicate that the building and construction (B&C) sector is responsible for about 40% of the European Union’s (EU) total energy consumption, representing 40% of the global CO2 emissions including the construction, operational and demolition phases.

Material choices, as well as technical and architectural solutions, are therefore crucial to reduce energy consumption and to minimise environmental impact without compromising comfort. The use of sustainable materials is becoming increasingly important in certain certifications and international eco-efficiency standards which demand energy savings potential.

The sustainable role of PVC

PVC is one of the most widely used plastics in building and construction. The main applications include pipes for drinking water and sewage, window frames, flooring and roofing foils, wall coverings and electric cables. In addition to its durability, affordability and light weight, PVC is also a popular sustainable choice because, as shown in the results of the eco-profiles published by PlasticsEurope, it requires only about 80% of the energy used in the production of other major polymers.

Across its entire lifecycle, PVC is a highly competitive material in terms of its environmental impact. Several recent eco-efficiency and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies show that in terms of energy requirements and GWP (Global Warming Potential) PVC is at least equal to alternative products, and, in many cases, even better in terms of lower energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

While the versatility and good performance of PVC products have been long recognised in the building sector, its long-term cost advantages have not always been fully appreciated.  A comparative cost analysis undertaken in 2011 by the independent research company Althesys shows that PVC provides substantial cost savings, not just in its low initial purchase and installation price, but also in its relatively low “Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO) which takes into account all costs associated with a product over its entire lifecycle. The study - which looked at window frames, flooring and piping – shows that PVC is a better option over the lifetime of the product than competing materials.

Green innovation PVC

PVC has inherent properties to help green up our buildings. As it happens in many other sectors, innovation is the driving force to unlock new market opportunities and improve sustainability performance.  A recent example comes from the London Olympic games where PVC was employed as the material of choice not only for aesthetic and functional reasons, but also because it was compliant with the strict environmental requirements set up by the organisers which included the need for a take-back and recycling scheme.

The PVC industry Voluntary Commitments play an important role in achieving external recognition by green building labels and certification bodies.  The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), for example, assigns up to two Green Star points most common PVC applications – pipes, fittings and conduits, cables, flooring and resilient wall coverings – due to their best lifecycle performance.

In this context, the VinylPlus product label for building applications which is currently under development in collaboration with The Natural Step and BRE Global (an independent, third-party organisation), will certainly represent a new milestone in moving PVC and the construction sector towards a truly sustainable future.